New Year! New Residency! New Book!

I’ve been working with Milwaukee Environmental Science Academy to create a new book this year. Over 200 kids along with the entire staff are working with me to write and illustrate a picture book based on their school’s character traits. The staff started the project in early January, collaging and designing the cover for our book. The school’s mascot is the yellow jacket, which is why we chose to feature them on our cover. In the next two months, the students will work with me to illustrate the interior page spreads, as well as write the story. Each page spread will feature text created around one of the school’s character traits, combined with the image of a tree and a Wisconsin animal. The big idea in the book is that just like a tree needs water, air, and nutrient rich soil to grow, we need character traits like integrity, grit, stewardship, respect, leadership, and craftsmanship to grow into strong and beautiful additions to the earth. While these illustrations will serve as the page spreads in the book, we will also have them enlarged and printed on 4′ x 6′ vinyl to be used to decorate the school. The project is made possible through funding from Arts@Large.

Mike Curato’s Studio Tour

Mike Curato - 5Today on Tuesday Tours I’m thrilled to welcome Mike Curato creator of the books featuring the adorable polka-dotted elephant Little Elliot, which have won multiple awards and have received several starred reviews. The newest book Little Elliot, Big Family just released this fall, and the next one—Little Elliot, Big Fun will be coming out in August. Mike’s Brooklyn studio has the same spirit of Little Elliot—white and bright with punches of color, and full of fun and adventure!


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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
My name is Mike and I write and illustrate picture books! You may know a certain polka-dotted pachyderm from my books, Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family. I work in pencil on paper with digital color.

Here are some of my tools that I use all the time.

Here are some of my tools that I use all the time.


How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve been in my current space for two years, and I love it. I actually work from home in Brooklyn, and part of choosing an apartment included good light and an extra room to work in. I used to have studio space outside of my home. Though I miss being around other creatives, there’s something to be said for being able to run into the workroom when inspiration strikes, and to be able to roll into bed whenever I want. It’s an easy commute, and I don’t have to deal with the weather!

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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Full disclosure, I definitely start my day with email, Facebook, and Twitter while I eat breakfast. I’m not sure this is the healthiest way to begin, but that’s how I do. I wish I could tell you that I have a regular discipline, but I’m just not built that way. Some days I can dive right in, and others I need a bit of coaxing. Sometimes I have to clean my whole space before I can put pencil to paper. I’m not OCD, but clearing the clutter also clears my mind.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I immediately thought of when my friends came over to help me build a paper mache Elliot for a window display at Books of Wonder. I always like company, and it was exciting watching Elliot come to life in 3-D. We made a pretty good mess, but it was well worth it!

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Is there any special trinket in your space that inspires you?
My favorite thing to look at when I need a pick-me-up is this drawing that my friend and former studio mate, Sarah Jane Lapp, made for me. When I was in Syracuse University’s illustration program, Hallmark came to review our senior portfolios. We sat through a mind-numbing slide-show of Hallmark imagery. The rep either described each piece as “cute” or “beautiful”, with an occasional “whimsical!” We were asked to leave our portfolios, and they would post a list of people they’d like to meet with after viewing them. When we returned, none of the illustrators were asked back, only surface pattern designers. When I relayed this story to SJ, I said “Apparently, my work is neither cute nor beautiful,” and she was inspired to make this for me. When I look at the drawing, I think to myself “I’ll show YOU cute and beautiful!”

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My husband gave me this elephant bakery as a birthday present! In case you didn’t know, I love sweets and elephants.

My husband gave me this elephant bakery as a birthday present! In case you didn’t know, I love sweets and elephants.

What colors inspire your creativity.  Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love color. I use lots of color in my work. However, I’ve also been a graphic designer for over a decade, so I appreciate whitespace, both on a page and in my workroom. The other rooms in my apartment are quite colorful, but my workspace has white walls, a white drafting table, white flat-files, and white bookcases. The white allows me to focus on whatever is in front of me.

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I like books.

Here is a line-up of Little Elliot prototypes from MerryMakers from start to finish.

Here is a line-up of Little Elliot prototypes from MerryMakers from start to finish.

If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Somewhere WARM and DRY. Maybe Palm Springs? Argentina? Spain? I was really inspired by Aaron Becker, who up and went to Spain for ten months with his family! It’s actually been my dream and goal to live abroad for a month in a different country each year. I’m not quite there yet, but I think it’s doable!

Here are a few of my shelf friends!

Here are a few of my shelf friends!

Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I definitely listen to music and audiobooks while I’m drawing, and I even watch shows and movies while I’m coloring. At this very moment, I am listing to the soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. My musical taste is a bit all over the map, so I just put on whatever I’m in the mood for. I love listening to biographies. Yesterday, I started listening to Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano, and it’s been really great so far. Sometimes I’ll have a show on in the background that I’ve watched a million times, that way I’m not distracted by the screen, but have something to fill the silence. I’m a big 30 Rock and Absolutely Fabulous fan. I can use a good laugh during the weary hours.

Among my prized possessions is this “Mike Mic”--a Disney Princess karaoke microphone on which Samantha Berger drew my portrait. That’s a photo strip of Samantha and her pup, Polly Pocket. Sam and I sing together a lot.

Among my prized possessions is this “Mike Mic”—a Disney Princess karaoke microphone on which Samantha Berger drew my portrait. That’s a photo strip of Samantha and her pup, Polly Pocket. Sam and I sing together a lot.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
ONLY ONE!?!? You are going to get me in trouble. Actually, Ruth Chan and I have often talked about how much fun it would be to have a studio together, though we both agree that it may prove counter-productive. We share a passion for all things picture book and dessert related. Ruth’s first picture book, Where’s the Party, comes out this Spring!

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Think about what you need to be productive and comfortable. If you haven’t had a creative space before, you’ll figure it out, just be flexible! I’d also say that it’s really important to adjust chairs and desks to be as ergonomic as possible. You can’t be too creative when you’ve pulled your back or have a stiff neck, trust me.

Here is a water tower painted by Marcos Chin, a picture of my best friend, Jill, and this model Chevy that I bought to help me with some reference on a new secret project I’m working on ;)

Here is a water tower painted by Marcos Chin, a picture of my best friend, Jill, and this model Chevy that I bought to help me with some reference on a new secret project I’m working on 😉


What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m very excited for my upcoming title, Worm Loves Worm, which I illustrated for debut author JJ Austrian. It’s about two worms who want to get married, but all of their insect friends have something to say about it. Don’t worry, love conquers all in the end! Worm Loves Worm is available January 5th, 2016. You can find me at my websiteblogFacebook, or Twitter.

Thanks so much, Mike! Your space makes me feel creative, and it definitely makes me want to try out your Disney Princess karaoke microphone. 🙂  I’m looking forward to Worm Loves Worm!

Tuesday Tours will be back on December 29th when Laura Lee Gulledge, author and illustrator of some pretty fabulous graphic novels, shows us her Virgina digs.

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Picture Book Halloween

My favorite holiday gets a little bit better when my family and I dress up as characters from pictures books. Last year my daughters Evey and Celia got to have all the fun, but this year Michael and I, our nephew, and my brother and sister-in-law got to join in as the creatures from Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are.

WILD THINGS! Costume picture

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Shimmerling Book Trailer

A magical creature is born from a feather that’s been sowed into the soil. As it grows, it discovers that it has characteristics of both a bird and a tree. The mighty oaks, only tall enough to see the creature’s trunk, believe it’s a tree and that it should stay grounded. The birds above, only able to see the creature’s mass of sparkling feathers, believe it’s a bird and urge it to take flight. The creature struggles between the two worlds until it sees itself as it really is–a new kind of being, a Shimmerling.

Available October 8, 2015

To learn more, visit:


New Illustration: Matías Makes a Friend

Here’s a look at what I’m working on—a page from the dummy for my new book Matías Makes a Friend.



And a new postcard (in progress) for the SCBWI LA Summer Conference.



David Catrow’s Studio Tour

Stand Tall Molly Lou MelonToday on Tuesday Tours I’m happy to feature the Springfield, OH studio  of NYT bestselling author and illustrator David Catrow. David is the Illustrator of over 70 children’s books, including some of my all time favorites—I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More (written by Karen Beaumont) and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (written by Patty Lovell). I never grow tired of hearing these stories and absorbing the over-the-top, energy-infused illustrations. My daughters and I laugh out loud every time we get to the end of I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, and the protagonist, who has painted most of his body, decides to drop his tighty-whities and extend his living canvas to his tush—until that is, he runs out of paint. And who wouldn’t love Molly Lou Melon and her buck-teeth that she stacks pennies on, and her adorable short stature?I aint gonna paint David creates fantasy worlds of the best kind in his illustrations–tempting us to see a better reality, one which buck-teeth are beautiful and creative energy can’t be stilled, even by a mom who’s had enough with the mess. I’ve been drawn to David’s work for years, never knowing he was a self-taught artist, but it doesn’t really surprise me–some of the best artists (and most of my favorites) are. In addition to his multitude of books, David is also credited with the visual development for 20th Century Fox’s Horton Hears a Who and Despicable Me. He has worked on the animated television series Stuart Little and Plantzilla (based on the popular children’s book by Jerdine Nolan). His syndicated editorial cartoons have run in over 1000 newspapers across Canada and the US. And his scholastic book series Max Spaniel has sold over a million copies.


headshotscrapbookTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I was born an artist—there isn’t any better way to say it than that. From the moment I was able to hold a crayon in my hand and not eat it, I have been communicating visually. I am comfortable being a self-taught artist, but at times it’s a double-edged sword. The up side is when I am forced to rely on one of my jury-rigged, build my wings on the way down strategies; it’s hell on the gastro-intestinal tract but in the end it yields some truly novel solutions. Life as a self taught artist is also fraught with tiger pits. I often think about the vast amounts of time wasted early in my career searching for answers in an unfamiliar technique or medium; I was like a Neanderthal carpenter searching for a rock to pound a nail—completely unaware that someone had invented a thing called a hammer. Those are the times that made me wish I’d gone to art school.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
While I would love to report that my studio overlooks the ocean from a wind swept hill, that is not the case. My window view is a typical city street with trucks and cars and buses—dogs barking at the UPS guy, kids playing hoop, and airplanes streaking overhead. The fantastic visions that come into my work, in fact originate from within the quiet solitude of my skull—so I think an ocean view would be a distraction.image4andrea10
I moved into my studio in 1991 and as any new space, it needed to be made mine. That process I am sure is different for every artist. Mine, for lack of a better description would be similar to any burrowing rodent or underground dwelling life form. I occupy the space and then proceed over time to cover the interior surface with an organic energy, producing tissue I can draw—this tissue is comprised of anything that suggests undiscovered potential or hints at new possibility. When I stumble upon something it’s like the Richard Dreyfus character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind— sees Devil’s Tower in his mashed potatoes and it means something. In other words, any meaningful thing I can get my hands on, I drag into my burrow.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I usually begin my day with caffeine. That might suggest a problem but I limit myself to two cups a day. Plus, I don’t think it’s any different from shaman who chew entheogens to put them into a trance to converse with Mother Earth—I just brew mine in a French press and add a dapple of ½ and ½.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?image4andrea9

If I could possibly share my space with someone it might be Jackson Pollack, because everything I have read makes me think we might have shared sensibilities. Responding to a critic who asked why his drip-paintings never included nature, Pollack rightly answered, “I am nature!”


Describe how you work. Is there any rituals you do before you start creating?

Initially, the ideas for books are simply favorite characters or environments, and it is from this that the story emerges. Most importantly, I approach the visual story as if words have never existed—all I have available to me is my ability to communicate like the cave artist: visually. In my mind the only difference between editorial cartoons and picture books, is the subject. I believe my work as an editorial cartoonist was most powerful when I could tell a story without any words at all. But I do enjoy word play too, so captions are an important and easy ingredient to help crystalize the joke or the opinion. Outside of picking out my socks, I’ve never actually planned a thing in all my existence on this planet—but my path has always seemed apparent to me as I moved through life. So when an opportunity presents itself, hey you have to leap!


Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
When I was on a mountain bike trip in central Mexico in 2006, our group stopped at a tequila ranch for a breather and a little hydration (no tequila, just water). We were all a little tired so everyone was looking for a place to plant themselves. I found an old stump that had a lot of prickly growth to lean against. When something suddenly poked me in the side, I turned around to see this gnarly horn sticking out of the brush. Carefully parting the thorny branches, I found myself face to face with the most comically evil painted wooden mask I had ever seen in my life. I am not usually this forward but I found the farmer who owned the land and asked him if I could buy this amazing thing—which he agreed to sell to me for 40 pesos (about $20, maybe?). I carried him, piggy back, out of the bush on my bike. To this day, I have absolutely no idea where this object came from or what his story is but he lives in an honored place on the wall of my studio and is, on occasion a muse that nurtures my darker side.


Please share with us a memory of one of the best times you had working in your studio.

I have many moments working in my studio when there is no better place in the universe to be. Moments when I am discovering what no other person has laid eyes on. Like stepping onto a high ridge to see a vast new alien world for the first time; and then getting to name the planet after me.



What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice to anyone, whether they want to do art, write, be an acrobat, or just create a space where they can explore their interior universe, is to keep searching and moving forward in pursuit of what you love or seek. If you can make some sense of who you are, then maybe the guy standing next to you on the bus won’t seem as dark and threatening as you first imagined. Accepting who we truly are allows us to embrace and appreciate the differences in all the other beings that walk on this planet with us. And what kind of world would that be?

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new book Fun in the Sun Fun in the Sunis a story about my all time favorite thing to do—pack up all my stuff and head out to the beach. Needless to say, my goal was never to make the trip vicariously as a french bulldog in a speedo. I just think anything wearing a speedo is just too funny, and I also thought a french bulldog was a fitting candidate this time around. After all I am a dog person and all of my books start out as a desire to experience something new. I hope you enjoy my new “pet” Fun in the Sun. You can see more of my work on my website or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
David at computer

Thank you, David! I love how you described moving through life without a plan and leaping when you see an opportunity—it’s an inspiring way to work and live.
I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Fun in the Sun and seeing your speedo-wearing dog!

Join us next week when we get a chance to visit the writing studio of teen author and Pat Schmatz.

Pat Zietlow Miller’s Studio Tour

I’m excited to welcome award-winning author Pat Zietlow Miller to Tuesday Tours. Pat wrote one of my favorite books–Sophie’s Squash (illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf)which is one of those beautifully told stories that, as a parent, you don’t mind reading again and again when your child just can’t get enough 🙂 Today Pat shares her Madison home office where she’s worked for the last seven years during her road to publication. Her story is truly inspiring–she heard 126 no’s before she got her first yes, but she didn’t let the rejection stop her. In her mind, it just meant the work wasn’t ready yet, and she loved writing, so she kept plugging away. Now, after the great success of Sophie’s Squash, Pat has seven new books coming out, starting this April with Wherever You Go (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler), a beautiful looking book about the possibilities that lie beyond the next bend in the road, which is the same road that also leads you home. skyberg-tuesday-tours-logo

PatTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium. I write picture books. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I got serious about it seven years ago, and it took me four years of writing, revising, submitting and being rejected to sell my first book, Sophie’s Squash, to Schwartz & Wade. Sophie’s Squash did well, winning the Golden Kite award and being an honor book for the Charlotte Zolotow Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. That was thrilling, and now I have seven other picture books that will be coming out in the next few years. It’s really been a dream come true. I hope to be doing this for many, many years to come.

Pat ZM

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?I’ve had this space for four years or so. Before then, I wrote throughout the house. I still do that, but it’s nice having a spot that is specifically mine and that can be a permanent home for all my book-related stuff.
book cover 4Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I know it would sound much more impressive if I said I ate green eggs and ham, chanted the text of Goodnight Moon and then bowed in the direction of Kevin Henkes’ house before I started writing, but I don’t. I just open my laptop and start. Usually, I write in the evenings because I work during the day.

What’s the biggest distraction when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
My biggest distraction is the rest of my life and finding time to write. I have two very active kids, an upcoming high school graduation to plan, a full-time job, endless piles of laundry and a house that seems to cause groceries to evaporate within seconds of their arrival. Sometimes, I just have to ignore all the stuff I think I should be doing and write anyway.

Does music influence how you work? What’s on your playlist now?
I don’t listen to music while I write because it’s too distracting. But when I’m not writing, I love music. Show tunes, Top 40, a cappella, oldies. My current favorite song is “Uptown Funk.”  Listening to it makes me smile. Plus, it has great lines like “Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” (Feel free to hum along …)


Pat ZM4Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have several items that belonged to my aunt, Faye Clow, who was the director of the Bettendorf Public Library. Two of my favorites are the nameplate from her desk and a piece of artwork that shows a chair by some bookshelves. I like to imagine I’m in that chair reading quietly. Faye loved books. She always gave me books when I was growing up and was very supportive of my writing. unnamed3I also have a sign from my day job at an insurance company that says “Preparation = Confidence = Success.” It’s a good reminder.
And, I keep some of my very favorite books on my desk in hopes their good writing karma will rub off on me.

Is there a favorite drink or food that you have while you work?
I normally don’t eat or drink while I’m writing. That happens when I get stuck and I get up and wander around by the pantry.

What are the three best things about your writing space?
1. It’s warm and comfortable. 2. I can lose myself in whatever I’m working on. 3. My cats sometimes sit next to me while I write.

How do you organize your books/bookshelf? Is there a formula you use?
I organize books by height, with the tallest on the left down to the shortest on the right.

Pat ZM6What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
While it’s nice to have a specific space that’s all your own, you can be creative anywhere. Don’t be so worried about creating the perfect space that you forget to do the creative work. I’ve written books largely at my kitchen table surrounded by dirty dishes. It’s nice to have somewhere nicer, but it’s not necessary.
Pat ZM3

book coverWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My second picture book, Wherever You Go, comes out April 21 from Little, Brown. It’s a book about all the paths you can take in life. I wrote it in anticipation of my daughter Gwen’s high school graduation – which is in May. It’s for young children, but it also contains a lot of things I want Gwen to remember and know as she moves on to college. It’s illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, and her artwork is truly, truly lovely.

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I have other books coming out after this one, and you can learn about them at my website, I also blog about picture book writing at with some other talented book creators. Check us out!

Thank you, Pat for sharing your writing space with us. I’m really looking forward to reading Wherever You Go and Sharing the Bread. You have busy year of releases ahead of you 🙂

Join us next Tuesday when we get a chance to see the beautiful home studio of creative couple Amy Arnold and Kelsey Sauber Old’s!